Friday, 19 December 2008

Traditional music to ease pain

Published in the John O'Groat Journal
19 December, 2008

THIS 2008 season of goodwill, gifts and presents, of reflection and resolve for a new year ahead, is deeply affected by the downside of debt, belt-tightening and battered self-esteem.

When ordinary citizens feel the pain, so do their elected politicians.

If we look for a better future we hope to lift the spirits and the prospects to learn how not to repeat another era of boom and bust.

First of all some bright spots: the Sixth Hands Up For Trad Awards were celebrated in the Old Fruit Market, Glasgow, over the first weekend in December.

Although not prizewinners in the friendly rivalry of the contemporary traditional music world, Caithness was prominently represented by Gordon Gunn who plays a mean fiddle in Session A9.

Also Wick's own top pianist James Ross, a contender for composer of the year, received a burst of well deserved screams of approval from younger female members of the audience.

Across the Pentland Firth, Orkney took the northern plume with awards for folk band of the year, The Chair; instrumentalist of the year, Kris Drever; and up-and-coming act, Jeana Leslie and Siobhan Miller.

The Hamish Henderson award for services to traditional music was won by Robin Morton, who is well-known across the land.

He used to play with the original line-up in Boys of the Lough who visited the Far North over the years, as did his main protégés Battlefield Band whom he recorded on his Temple record label.

Robin summed up his remarks by congratulating the gathered company who, he asserted, over the past 40 years have "invented" Scotland.


MEMORABLY BBC Alba was first to broadcast Na Trads, as they called the Trad Awards, after several years of campaigning by organiser Simon Thoumire.

I gained two past member's debates in the parliament to help gain cross-party support. And next year's televised awards will come from Dumfries.

It is worth noting that BBC Alba serves a far wider audience than the Gaelic community as such.

Its sports coverage digs beneath the big football leagues but also picks champions such as Craig Brown, the former Scotland football manager, to spearhead a campaign to stop a UK team participating in the London Olympics 2012.

All of us can benefit from a new channel and a bit of Scottish competition on the airwaves.

Now we have to add to my campaign to get full strength broadband coverage in the Far North by getting BBC Alba on Freeview asap.

I raised the latter with the BBC at their well-timed parliamentary reception for MSPs this week.


IN the week Scotland's Government lodged the most ambitious Climate Change Bill on the planet readers deserve to know why Gordon Brown declared at the Council of Ministers in Brussels that the European Union "remains the leader" on climate change policy.

We need to discuss what its details mean for Scotland. The Scottish daily press has been very unhelpful.

This EU deal between heads of governments of the 27 members included the UK agreeing that Germany, Poland and others could leave aside tougher emission trading costs due to the recession.

Potentially it allows the polluters to cash in on their dirty profits from cement and steel plants under the threat they could pull these out of the EU and pollute more freely elsewhere.

That's why, this week, we look to the European Parliament to keep the 20-20-20 climate deal on course.

Rob Gibson listens in parliament to points raised by the pupils from the Highland Children's Forum.

They have co-decision, Scotland needs their vision and resolve.

Meanwhile, of particular interest to those of us in the Far North, we also look to the UK to boost the development of Scotland's green renewable energy riches.

Brown's Government must remove the Ofgem obstacle, i.e. the artificial competition penalties on energy production in Scotland and northern England.

Brown could speed up the results of the competition for a carbon capture and storage pilot.

We in Scotland look to Scottish Power's Longannet plant to win the chance to utilise the sympathetic geology of the northern North to pump carbon into old oil wells from their major coal power station.

At European level, the EU plans to tackle climate change look to Scotland's huge renewable potential to reach continental markets via an undersea super grid.

The UK must back this to the hilt as London stands to gain hugely from Scotland's green energy production when the UK's share of carbon-cutting targets is measured.

I would expect that citizens could be told how big an issue this is.

Indeed it is a key issue for Scotland's economic recovery and sustainability in far more detail.

I'll do my part to look at these issues in my reports in the Groat.


EARLIER in the week I had the privilege of being grilled by P7 pupils at Mount Pleasant Primary School in Thurso.

They were tenacious and involved in the details of what free school meals could mean for their younger schoolmates and how they saw the food on offer from Highland school meals service.

Once my long list of queries is compiled I'll come back to this as the Scottish Government received Parliamentary approval to go ahead and offer free school meals across the board to P1-P3 pupils.

My next port of call was Pulteneytown Academy to offer my congratulations to Liam Sutherland and his classmates in P7 who helped produce a winning poster in the Scots Language competition run by Itchy Coo Books.

I hope they enjoy the copy of Winnie the Pooh translated into Scots by James Robertson.

As I left the classroom Liam and his pals were poring over the map of the area in the story. Well done class!

Another heartening event was the gathering of 15 Highland school pupils under the wing of the Highland Children's Forum who came to the parliament a week ago.

They have had their views included in a Council-led study called "Are We There Yet? – A Way To Go" to find out just how safe, nurtured, healthy, achieving, active, respected, responsible and included they feel.

They fired questions at a range of Highland MSPs and we all enjoyed the direct questions and growing confidence of these typical Highland secondary school pupils.

I wish them a great Christmas, and a Merry Yule to all of the John O'Groat Journal readers into the bargain.

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